It’s the story of a woman, alone, in 1955, at age 67, who walked the entire Appalachian Trail. She was the first woman to do so alone and only the seventh person to thru-hike the 2,050 miles from Mt. Oglethorpe*, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin, Maine. She went on to become the first person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) two and then three times.
Grandma Gatewood did not have hiking boots, a backpack or a tent. She carried a blanket and a shower curtain in a drawstring bag and wore sneakers because her bunions were so bad. But she loved being outdoors and possessed grit, determination, and a “Don’t Stop” attitude that she passed on to her eleven children.**
When asked why she hiked so far she often said, “Because I thought it would be a lark” and “I like the peacefulness in the woods” and “After the hard life I’ve lived this trail isn’t so bad.” Author Ben Montgomery reveals for the first time how hard Emma Gatewood’s life really was: married 34 years to an abusive husband, sometimes broke because of his debts, granted a divorce in 1941 because of his abuse. Yes, the woods are peaceful and the trail isn’t so bad.
Grandma Gatewood’s walk made the Appalachian Trail famous and probably saved it from extinction by disrepair and development. By now millions have hiked parts of it (myself included) and more than 14,000 have thru-hiked its 2,000+ miles. Most thru-hikers have heard of Grandma Gatewood and when times get tough they say to themselves, “If she could do it, I can too.”
Emma Rowena Gatewood shows us that what you do with your life matters. And it’s never too late to start!
*The Appalachian Trail’s southern terminus was moved to Springer Mountain, Georgia in 1958.
**Many of us in Pittsburgh were inspired by one of Grandma Gatewood’s children, Esther Gatewood Allen, who passed away in June 2011 before this book was written.